Chuck Bednarik, the legendary Philadelphia Eagle and last two-way player in NFL history, was honored in a ceremony Friday at his alma mater, Liberty High School, where the Pro Football Hall of Fame dedicated a special plaque.
“Two things put Bethlehem on the map,” said Pete Carril, a fellow Liberty alumnus, Bednarik childhood friend and Basketball Hall of Famer who coached Princeton University for 29 years. “Bethlehem Steel and Chuck Bednarik.”
“We had a lot of great players,” Carril said. “But Chuck was the best.”
Bednarik, 88, wearing his gold Pro Football Hall of Fame sports jacket, hardly seemed like the man who was known for his ferocity and toughness on the gridiron during his years at the University of Pennsylvania and the Eagles and, in retirement, got attention for saying disparaging things about modern day players.
He tapped his cane in time while the Liberty Grenadier Band played the school song, waved and blew kisses at a gymnasium full of students who cheered for him at the conclusion of the ceremony, then seemed delighted as Hurricane football players came up to meet him and take pictures.
The ceremony and plaque is part of the NFL Hometown Hall of Famers program, which is a partnership between the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance.
The plaque will remain on permanent display at Liberty High School. Liberty is the 79th high school to receive a plaque honoring a hall of famer, making it another “extension” of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a museum official said.
Later Friday evening, the school dedicated a 7-foot-tall bronze statue of Bednarik for permanent display at Bethlehem Area School District Stadium before the homecoming game with Allentown Central Catholic, which the Hurricanes won, 35-14.
An identical statue sits at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, where Bednarik made football history for the Quakers and the Eagles. The sculptor made a precautionary duplicate and family members decided to donate it to Liberty High School.
Bednarik smiled broadly when one of the ceremony speakers referred to him as “Concrete Charlie,” a nickname derived from his off-season work as a concrete salesman in the days before star athletes were millionaires. The moniker worked too for his ability, as one pundit put it, to hit an opponent “like a ton of bricks.”
After graduating from Liberty, Bednarik joined the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II and became a waist-gunner who survived 30 combat missions over Germany.
When he came back from the war, Bednarik become a three-time All-American football player at the University of Pennsylvania, playing at linebacker and center. After a career that earned him induction in the College Football Hall of Fame, Bednarik was the first pick overall in the 1949 NFL draft by the Eagles, and helped Philadelphia win its second consecutive championship in his rookie season.
The defining year of his great NFL career was 1960, when, playing both offense and defense for nearly every minute of every game, he led the Eagles to their last championship.
He retired from football in 1962 and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility.